PICTURE a classroom full of 15-year-old girls, says renowned parenting expert, Steve Biddulph.
They will all be individuals, he says, but compared with their mothers at this same age, they are amazingly confident and can speak their minds on any subject.
However, if you meet with any of these girls on their own, below their cheerful exterior, you will likely see problems.
Three or four of these girls might roll up their sleeves to show scars on their arms where they cut themselves; three or four will be in the early stages of an eating disorder; almost will be unhappy with their body; four or five will be sexually active, but chances are they're not enjoying it. One in five will be on anti-anxiety or anti- depressant medication. Then there are those who are victims or perpetrators of bullying. Those involved in binge drinking.
This, Biddulph says, is modern girlhood: a phase in a woman's life that is more lonely, pressured, unkind and busy than ever before.
Biddulph has penned his concerns into a new book, 10 Things Girls Need Most, in which he details the issues facing modern-day girls and provides strategies to combat them.
He explains that despite him working with parents for four decades - first as a psychologist with kids deep in trouble, then as an educator aiming to prevent the trouble - it's only in the past 10 years that his colleagues and he have begun to feel alarmed about girls.
"Girls used to be going fine; a generation ago young women were lifted on the wings of the feminist era, and were confident and free,” he says from his home in Tasmania.
"Then it all imploded.”
He says this implosion has been fuelled by a two- pronged beast of marketing and social media in one prong and a lack of role models on the other.
"(Girls) were preyed on by advertisers, who deliberately targeted the pre-teen girl over fashion, weight, snack foods, dieting, make-up and things they really didn't need and social media made everyone 'looks-conscious'.
"And the growing loneliness of girls, as aunties and other older women disappeared from their lives, and mums and dads were so busy, meant they looked to the peer group for affirmation, which is always a bad idea.”
Biddulph is alarming in his language.
He says that girls' mental health has "gone over a cliff”; that girls over the age of eight are now "hammered by stress and pressure to compete and conform”.
And for Biddulph - best-selling parenting educator and writer - the cure is for parents to do one thing above all else: "take the pressure down”.
He explains that academic pressure, fashion pressure, sexual pressure, and the hurry that family life has become, are contributing to it all.
"Hurry is the enemy of love, and there are just too many activities, commitments, and have-tos in everyone's lives,” he says.
Biddulph's solution? "'Grow slow, grow strong' is the most popular saying that parents take from this book, and it applies to all of us.”
10 Things Girls Need Most by Steve Biddulph, Finch Publishing, $27.99, out now.
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